The Chandidas mystery has troubled writers on Bengali literary history for over a century. It is pretty clear that Boru Chandidas, the writer of Sri Krishna Kirtan, was known to Mahaprabhu and the Goswamis, and that his stories of Radha and Krishna, were greatly influential, at least where certain pastimes and probably certain themes within those pastimes are concerned.
But most of the scholars in Bengal were a little disturbed by the thought that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, with his elevated sentiments and pure devotional mood, could ever have spent much time listening to Sri Krishna Kirtan with Raya Ramananda and Svarupa Damodar. One thing is certainly true is that other than the one MS of SKK, very little of Boru Chandidas, at least what is recognizably this Boru Chandidas' work, was picked up and used by Lila-kirtan singers in the post-Chaitanya period. To the point that for all intents and purposes, his work was completely lost. It was surely Mahaprabhu's grace that it was not.
But the mystery remained. Is this really what Mahaprabhu was interested in? Now it may surprise some people to know that it was not just Boru Chandidas' kirtan that was practically lost, but all the Chandidas' were pretty much out of the picture until people started publishing their work in the mid-18th century. Gradually, more and more poems and songs with a "Chandi Das" bhanita began to be found.
Asita Kumar Bandyopadhyaya ultimately divides all the Chandidas's into four distinct persons based on the criteria presented in the songs alone. Other scholars have presented different points of view, but AKB seems to have the best take on it and pretty much shows how the others are wrong.
I have read many of the attempts to explain the problem, including Hare Krishna Mukhopadhyaya, Sukumar Sen, Biman Bihari Majumdar and Basant Ranjan Ray, and I don't think anyone summarizes it as well as Bandyopadhyaya. But his book is over 40 years old, so something new may have come up since. But I will just give a brief summary of his account:
- Boru Chandidas, author of Sri Krishna Kirtan. As stated above. He states in every song that he is writing on the order of and for the pleasure of Basuli (said to mean Saraswati, Vishalakshi);
- Another Chandidas who wrote prior to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and whose songs were relished by Mahaprabhu, but no examples of which (!) were left in the Chaitanya Charitamrita. I will give a couple of examples, later, but even though only 50-60 songs can be attributed to this Chandidas, they are the ones that really have made him famous. I will give two examples below. Basically, when we hear the name Chandidas, this is the one we think of.
- A third Chandidas, whose Bhanita says "Dina Chandidas" wrote very prolifically, perhaps 2-3,000 songs have been found in which he writes whole palas. Now I know that Hare Krishna Mukhopadhyaya has selected a number of Dina Chandidas's songs in his huge collection, but AKB is pretty dismissive of this author's talent, saying that of the thousands of verses, only a few can be considered of high quality. Besides which, there is sufficient internal evidence to show that his opus is from the post-Chaitanya period.
- Then there is the Sahajiya Chandidas, who writes about his love for the washerwoman Rami. Many legends have grown around this Chandidas and this love affair, even films, etc., have been made about it in Bengal, so it has become quite a part of the culture of Bengal. This Chandidas's songs are often without any direct reference to Radha and Krishna at all. Since Sahajiyaism did not really develop in Bengal until the late 16th and early 17th centuries, it is very unlikely that this Chandidas predated the 17th century.
There has clearly been a conflation of all these individuals and there was even a forged manuscript telling the legend of the Rajakini's lover Chandidas, placing him at an earlier period. Basanta Ranjan Ray, for instance, thinks that there was only one Chandidas, the same person as the author of SKK, just that the rest of his work had become transformed over time by singers and copyists who modernized the language as time went by.
Anyway, the problem is quite intractable, but AKB's analysis seems sound. He does not think that there were more than 4, but it is not unlikely that there were.
Here, for the record, are two songs by Chandidas #2:
deha mana Adi, tomAre saMpechi
kula zIla jAti mAna
My beloved! You are my life!
I have surrendered my body, mind, everything to you,
family, character, caste and good name.
yogira ArAdhya dhana
gopa goAlinI hAma ati dInA
nA jAni bhajana-pUjana
You are the Lord of all creation, the black Krishna,
the worshipable treasure of the yogis.
I am but a lowly cowherd woman
who knows nothing of worship and religious ritual.
diyAchi tomAra pAya
tumi mora pati tumi mora gati
mama nAhi Ana bhAya
I have soaked my body and mind in the waters of love
and offered them at your feet.
You are my husband, you are my destiny,
nothing else matters to me at all.
tAhAte nAhika dukha
tomAra lAgiyA kalaGkera hAra
galAya parite sukha
Everyone is calling me a fallen woman,
but that is not a cause of distress to me.
I will gladly wear the garland of disrepute
around my neck for your sake.
bhAlo manda nAhi jAni
kahe caNDIdAsa pApa-puNya-maya
tomAra caraNa du-khAni
You alone know whether I am chaste or unchaste,
I have lost all track of what is good or bad.
Chandi Das calls out, "O Krishna!
Your lotus feet alone
are the abode of all sin and piety."
I especially like the words "garland of disrepute" (kalaGkera hAra) and "Your lotus feet alone are the abode of all sin and piety." (pApa-puNya-maya tomAra caraNa du-khAni).
Poetic talent is hard to define, but here it seems to be the success Chandidas has in bringing out such intense emotion in such simple language. You would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely as powerful in Boru Chandidas.
This is why it is said to have a spiritual element: it is the purity of the emotion, the surrender. The mix of aishwarya and madhurya is quite different also.
maraNe jIvane, janame janame
prANa-nAtha hoio tumi
My beloved! What else can I say?
In life and death, birth after birth,
You are the Lord of my life.
bAndhilo premera phAMsi
saba samarpiyA, eka-mana hoiyA
nizcaya hoilAm dAsI
Your lotus feet have captured my life
and bound it in the noose of love.
I have surrendered everything
and single-mindedly become your maidservant.
Ara mora keho Ache
rAdhA boli keha, sudhAite nAi
dAMRAbo kAhAra kAche
I thought hard about it: Who is there
in these three worlds I can call mine?
There is no one who will call my name
or remember me. By whom can I stand?
ApanA bolibo kAya
zItala boliyA, zaraNa loinu
o duTi kamala pAya
In my in-laws' family, in my parents' home
In this world or the next, or here in Gokula,
there is no one I can call my own.
So finding Your lotus feet to be cooling
I have taken shelter of them.
je hoy ucita tora
bhAviyA dekhinu, prANa-nAtha bine
gati je nAhiko mora
I am just an innocent girl,
so don't find an excuse to push me away.
That would not be worthy of you.
I have thought about it and concluded
that other than you, the Lord of my life,
I have no refuge.
tobe se parANe mori
caNDI-dAsa kohe, paraza ratana
galAya gAnthiyA pari
If I cannot see him for even the twinkling of an eye
it feels like my life is fleeing from me.
Chandidas says, "I wear the touchstone
strung on a necklace at my throat."
The self-surrender is very strong here too. The last verse of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's Sikshashtaka and even more so Kaviraja Goswami's translation seem to echo this song. These were quick translations and I might update them.
I will try to give an example or two of the Sahajiya Chandidas's songs in a future post.